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The Importance of Saying Yes: Jessica Lander, EPM'15

Jessica LanderIn the four years prior to coming to the Ed School, Jessica Lander’s work took her all over the world. From Charlestown, Massachusetts to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Lander served as a teacher and a writer, and in various positions in education nonprofits. She enrolled in the Education Policy and Management (EPM) Program with the hope of learning, she says, “how to thread these experiences together and build on them to learn how to create system-wide change.” But, over the last year at HGSE, her goals have evolved.

“I have begun to identify these connections and understand the directions I could take,” she says. “I have become particularly passionate about strengthening family and community engagement in schools, and supporting students to be civically engaged and impactful.”

A valuable member of the EPM cohort, Lander stood out to both her peers and the program faculty for her commitment to the community through her work with such initiatives as the Dean’s Equity Fellowship and the MLK Day of Service.

“Jessica has been an outstanding member of the EPM 2015 cohort,” says Senior Lecturer Karen Mapp, program director of EPM. “I was fortunate to have Jessica as a student in both of my classes and witnessed firsthand her commitment to creating an intellectual learning community. Throughout the year, Jessica has been a resource to many of her fellow students, offering ideas, asking challenging questions, and connecting them to people in the community…. On behalf of the EPM faculty, staff, and students, I congratulate Jessica for this wonderful recognition of her contribution to our cohort and to HGSE.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for EPM, Lander answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

What are your post-HGSE plans? Get a job. Change the world. (Not necessarily in that order).

More specifically, I am drawn to a holistic approach to education – grounded in creating, supporting, and deepening ties between schools and the communities in which they reside. I would like to explore how to accomplish this on a broad scale. In addition, I hope to continue developing and stretching my voice as a writer, finding new ways to use writing to share and spread powerful ideas.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? First: the importance of creating spaces to hear many different and divergent voices and continuously reminding myself that there is hardly ever just a single story.

Second: The importance of seizing the moment and of saying “yes” to intriguing ideas. Saying "yes" was how I ended up applying for the Dean’s Equity Fellowship and co-creating a citywide poetry project in response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri; it was how I joined a team of fellow students to design a teacher-training program for new teachers in El Salvador centered around project-based learning; and it was how I found myself in the midst of countless debates and conversations with peers and professors grappling with educational ideas.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Karen Mapp’s class on Leadership and Social Change Organizations! Professor Mapp is an exceptional teacher who can transform a class discussion of 40 students in a large lecture hall into a conversation that feels as intimate as five friends sitting around a table. In class, she pushed us and supported us as we explored the difficult issues of privilege, perception, and intent and race. Often class discussions lingered long after class had ended, slipping into late night conversations and long afternoon musings. Even now, months later, I find myself thinking back to class discussions and readings regularly and have come to appreciate how the class and her mentorship has altered how I understand the role I hope to have as an educator.

If you could transport one person/place/thing from HGSE and/or Cambridge to your next destination, what would it be? The amazing spirit and incredible vibrancy of the HGSE community! Appian Way is brimming with smart and creative people ready to tackle some of the world’s most challenging educational issues. I find myself continually inspired and constantly humbled by the work of my peers and I hope that I can continue to find such vibrant places to call home.

The number one, biggest surprise of the last year was … How quickly it has all gone by.

Read about the other recipients of this year's Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award.